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Business School: Why good employees are your greatest asset in uncertain times

Professor Stefan Allesch-Taylor on why now is no time to be complacent about your team

In his latest Business School column, serial entrepreneur, CBE, Professor of the Practice of Entrepreneurship and Fellow at King’s College London, Stefan Allesch-Taylor, explains why, even during a tough jobs market, good businesses recognise and reward great employees.

It seems counterintuitive, in what looks like a ‘buyer’s market’, for employers to take special note of effective employee retention approaches. However, it’s always important to remember that the biggest single threat to a successful business plan is the people – and that the biggest single asset to a successful business plan is, invariably, the people.

stefan allesch taylor

Professor Stefan Allesch-Taylor

So, what does ‘the book’ say? Let’s rattle through the obvious before we get to the not so obvious:

Compensation: Whatever you’re offering, make sure it’s crystal clear from the outset.

Day one: It’s extremely important that everyone understands, not just what their job is, but what the culture of your company is – and what they can do to feel part of that – from the outset.

Career assistance: Pairing a new employee with a mentor is a great way to help them find their feet, ask questions and feel comfortable with what they’re doing. Clearly though, their mentor shouldn’t be their boss but rather someone senior from a different department.

Formal communication: Again, it seems counterintuitive to inform staff and team members about decisions they may not be directly involved in, but the more people know the less they speculate. The more you can control gossip, and the build-up of toxicity, the better – especially in a COVID-19 world where ‘fake news’ can spread like wildfire in the absence of information.

Regular reviews: These are going to be more important than you may think in a rapidly changing business landscape affected by the convulsions of the tail end (we hope) of the pandemic. As an employer you may want to keep a tighter rein and greater flexibility on the emphasis within job descriptions as trading unfolds.

business employees

Getting staff feedback: I concede that this can be very time consuming and a little self-serving despite what ‘best practice’ says. However, the truth is you can’t be everywhere at once and sometimes people can see what you can’t. Listen to everything but have a procedure to control the flow of information so you can treat it, and the sender, with respect. Anyone taking the time to give you feedback should be afforded a considered response and appropriate thanks if it’s of value. In other words, take it seriously or don’t bother asking.

Training: An obvious one. The more your employees know, the more they will be able to help further your business. Training is always worth the investment in time and money.

Set achievable targets: People need to know when they are achieving and when they are not – and so do you. Set individual or team targets, both are effective, and make sure they are both realistic and not purely sales orientated.

Use technology: Wherever possible use technology to make the job more interesting or effective. An employer investing in new tools for a job underpins the value they place on it.

"You have to care about what actually motivates and inspires your team. It isn’t always money."

These are the obvious ones. However, getting to the crux, not all people are the same. At a time when you may well be worried for yourself, your family, your business viability and are facing an endless stream of difficult issues (many of which you will never have seen before), you really do have to engage in something so many business owners only think they are good at: giving a toss.

You have to care about what actually motivates and inspires your team. It isn’t always money. Market rates for jobs are what they are no matter how good your staff member is. You need to think about them as individuals to incentivise them effectively so consider creating a bespoke set of rewards not just for performance – that doesn’t really inspire loyalty – but for effort and engagement too.

Not everything is monetary, to some employees real value lies in their ability to volunteer, to create and innovate and to have a side project for the company outside of their defined role. As a simple example, it might mean rewarding staff with an item they would, perhaps, never buy themselves (but would love). A specific extra holiday day, an electric bike, a membership to a gym or club – even a PlayStation 5! It doesn’t matter, it only matters that you know what it is they will appreciate most. Not everyone wants public recognition, some just want to be valued and respected.

business school rewards

How do we effectively demonstrate that staff are valued and respected? Feedback. Offering regular comment on the good, and great, work people do in a timely manner as part of a normalised company culture also allows you to quickly nip any issues in the bud, as feedback is the norm. Rather than only communicating when you’re not happy about something, this approach leads to much more constructive communication with a balanced approach.

Think about this too: not everyone wants promotion, advancement or greater responsibility. Some simply want to be respected and rewarded for doing a great job. So, a ‘jam for tomorrow’ strategy of promising a future promotion, pay rise or some other potentially de-stabilising incentive is not always the way to go.

Implementing a respectful and effective HR strategy doesn’t necessarily mean directly getting to know everyone who works for you, but you must create and encourage an environment where your leadership team takes the time to do so – especially when most of your employees are working remotely. In order to create a truly optimised workforce you must create connectivity – and connectivity in turn will create the bonds that can transcend the difficulties you are likely to face moving forward.

Facing business struggles of a different kind? Here’s what to do when you’ve been laid off…

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